FOR cricket lovers, any wine label with Botham and Willis on it suggests a formidable attack, particularly when it is strengthened by the addition of the Australian wine-maker Geoff Merrill. The three of them have crafted two wines to celebrate Ian Botham’s 25th-anniversary walk in aid of leukaemia and lymphoma research.
They are a Shiraz 2005, from McLaren Vale, and a 2007 Chardonnay, made from fruit from McLaren Vale and Coonawarra. The Shiraz could well be described as beefy, weighing in at 14.5%, with powerful flavours of oak and ripe fruit. The Chardonnay (13.5%) is no lightweight, either, with rich, creamy flavours and, to my palate, rather too much oak influence. Both wines are available from Christopher Piper Wines (www.christopherpiperwines.co.uk) for £14.99, with £2.50 of the price going to charity.
Last month, my vineyard travels led me to either the Near or the Middle East: I am not quite sure which countries comprise which. In any case, I was in Lebanon and Cyprus.
As far as British consumers are concerned, our exposure to the wines of both countries is, with one notable exception, largely restricted to ethnic restaurants. The one exception is the Lebanese wines of Château Musar, whose owner, Serge Hochar, was Decanter magazine’s first Man of the Year, as long ago as 1984. This company claims to have the largest stock of mature bottled in the world, and a visit to its winery, high in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean, is a rewarding experience.
The top-of-the-range wines are sold as Château Musar, and the red wines, made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan, are not released until their seventh year. The 2002 and 2003 vintages are now available. The retail price for these is just under £18, and stockists include the Wine Society, Waitrose, and Majestic.
For those seeking something more affordable, I would suggest the Musar Jeune 2008 (Cinsault, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon), for something under £10, available from specialist wine merchants.
Until recently, you could just about count the number of Lebanese wineries on the fingers of one hand. Now, there are more than 50, and ten of them have joined together to launch a publicity campaign on the British market. Two wines of Château Ka can now be found in a limited number of Waitrose branches. Their Source Blanche 2008, a blend of Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon, I found to have an agreeable ripe melon flavour: the red 2006 gave a big, warming mouthful of wine. Both sell for just under £9.
Cyprus is more difficult: the memories of wine-drinkers are tarnished by Emva Cream and Commandaria. There are now some exciting wines being made, but mainly by very small wineries in the Troodos Mountains, such as Tsiakkas and Constantino. The British high street still seems to be restricted to the Island Vines red and white, available from the Co-op for £3.99. These are the 2008 vintage — a great improvement on those I had tasted before.